Death of a President (2006 film)

Death of a President
Directed by Gabriel Range
Produced by Gabriel Range
Simon Finch
Ed Guiney
Robin Gutch
Written by Gabriel Range
Simon Finch
Starring Hend Ayoub
Brian Boland
Becky Ann Baker
Music by Richard Harvey
Cinematography Graham Smith
Edited by Brand Thumim
Borough Films
Distributed by Optimum Releasing (UK)
Newmarket Films (U.S.)
Release dates
10 September 2006 (Toronto Film Festival)
9 October 2006 (UK TV)
27 October 2006 (U.S.)
Running time
93 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English, Arabic
Budget $2 million[1]
Box office $869,352[2]

Death of a President is a 2006 British docudrama political thriller film about the fictional assassination of George W. Bush, the 43rd U.S. President, on 19 October 2007 in Chicago, Illinois. The film is presented as a future history docudrama and uses actors, archival video footage as well as computer-generated special effects to present the hypothetical aftermath the event had on civil liberties, racial profiling, journalistic sensationalism and foreign policy.


Broadcast in the year 2008, the film is presented in a TV documentary style format, combining talking head interviews, news coverage clips and video surveillance footage surrounding the assassination of U.S. President George W. Bush in Chicago around a year earlier on 19 October 2007. The president is fatally shot by a sniper after he addresses an economic forum at the Chicago Sheraton Hotel, before which an anti-war rally had taken place. News outlets immediately begin reporting on the incident along with its political ramifications. After authorities earlier arrest and interrogate war-protesting detainees, Jamal Abu Zikri (Malik Bader), an IT professional of Syrian origin, becomes the prime suspect.

Vice President Dick Cheney, now president, uses the possible al-Qaeda relationship in connection with the suspected assassin, Zikri, to push his own domestic political security agenda. He calls for the legislation of PATRIOT Act III, trying to increase the investigative powers of the FBI, the police, and other government agencies over U.S. citizens and resident aliens as he contemplates attacking Syria.

As his wife Zahra (Hend Ayoub) listens to the verdict with family attorney Dawn Norton (Patricia Buckley) in a packed courtroom, Zikri is convicted of killing the U.S. President and sentenced to death based upon dubious forensic evidence. Meanwhile, a new report which surfaces, substantiated by interviews with Marianne Claybon (Chavez Ravine), indicates that the perpetrator is most likely her husband Al Claybon (Tony Dale), a veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, who lived in Rock Island, Illinois, and who also was the father of David Claybon, a U.S. soldier recently killed in the Iraq War. The assassin, who blames President Bush for the death of his son, killed himself after Bush's assassination. Claybon's suicide note, addressed to a second son, Casey Claybon (Neko Parham), an Iraq War veteran living in Chicago who was previously considered as a suspect, reads:

Everything I stood for and raised you to stand for has turned bad. There's no honor in dying for an immoral cause. For lies. I love my country, but I love God, and the sons He gave me even more. I must do the right thing by you and by David. George Bush killed our David, and I cannot forgive him for that.

Ten months after President Bush's assassination, Zikri remains on death row at the Stateville Correctional Center, because government officials are deliberately delaying his legal appeal. Moreover, in his dead father's Rock Island house, Casey Claybon finds evidence of his father's planning of the shooting. The most incriminating piece of evidence is a copy of a top secret presidential itinerary outlining, to the minute, President Bush's Chicago whereabouts on 19 October 2007. The news report ends while the U.S. Government continues investigating how presidential assassin Al Claybon obtained that top secret document.

The final closing titles of the film inform the viewer that President Cheney's USA PATRIOT Act III was signed into permanent law in the U.S., stating the following: "It has granted investigators unprecedented powers of detention and surveillance, and further expanded the powers of the executive branch".




The funeral scenes in the film include footage taken from archival coverage of President Reagan's funeral, and President Cheney's eulogy for President Bush is a news clip of Cheney's eulogy for Reagan.[3] CGI special effects and existing footage of President Bush helped to re-create the filming of his assassination. The rifle used by the perpetrator in the film was actually an airsoft replica of an AR-15. Image editing software was used to add the actors' images to photographs with President Bush.

Although all imagery related to Bush's assassination was created using digital special effects, an apparent actual death, captured on tape, is included in the film during a piece of war footage in which an Iraqi insurgent prepares to launch a rocket, but is shot in the head first.[4] Except for specific scenes, most of the actors portrayed in the film were not told of the premise surrounding the story.

During a post emergency surgery news conference, the chief physician's comment that he had "never seen such a strong heart in a man of the president's age", is a reference to President Ronald Reagan's own assassination attempt. In addition, the interview of a middle-aged African American outside the hospital recalls an interview of a witness on the streets of Washington, D.C. in 1981 following that assassination attempt. Filming was done entirely on location in Chicago, Illinois.


The film score was composed and conducted by Richard Harvey. Sound effects and music elements were mixed by Alex Riordan.

Director's notes

The film's director, Gabriel Range, noted that the film is not "a leftist jeremiad"[5] and further said:

The purpose of the film was not to imagine how the world stage would reset with the assassination of George Bush. The intent of the film is really to use the assassination of President Bush as a dramatic deviceusing the future as an allegory to comment on the past. [....] If people go to the cinema expecting to have some great moment of catharsis watching the president being shot, I suspect they’re in for a pretty big surprise. I think that anyone who’s expecting this to be a liberal wet dream is in for quite a shock ... It was very important that the film was not a political rant. It was not just a condemnation or polemic because I think that polemics are easy to dismiss.[5]


The official premiere was at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival on 10 September 2006.


In Europe, it was broadcast in the UK on 9 October (More4), 19 October 2006 (Channel 4), in Finland on 18 October 2007, in Switzerland on 21 August 2011 (SF 1) and in France on 28 January 2014 (Polar)

Box office

Newmarket paid one million dollars for the U.S. distribution rights.[6] The total production budget for the film is estimated to have been two million dollars.[1] Two of the largest U.S. cinema chains, Regal Entertainment Group and Cinemark, refused to screen the film; a Cinemark spokesman told UK newspaper The Guardian: “The assassination of a sitting president is problematic subject matter”.[7] In addition, major U.S. broadcasters CNN and National Public Radio refused to broadcast advertisements for the film.[8] The film was screened in the U.S. for 14 days, showing at 143 theatres at its widest release.[1][2] Worldwide, it grossed $869,352.[2] The Japanese motion picture ethics committee, the Eirin, prevented Death of a President from being shown in most cinemas in 2007, saying that the film's Japanese title ("Bush Ansatsu", translated as "Bush Assassinated") is inappropriate.[9] The film was scheduled to begin showing in Japanese cinemas on 6 October 2007.

Home media

The Region 2 Code widescreen edition of the film was released on DVD in the United Kingdom on 30 October 2006, followed by the Region 1 Code version in the United States on 3 April 2007. Special features include interviews and commentary with screenwriter Simon Finch, editor Brand Thumim, line producer Donall McCusker and director Gabriel Range. A theatrical trailer is also included with the extras.

The movie is currently available to stream with Hulu Plus.



The central conceit of Death of a President was much criticised by those who believed it exploited the subject of presidential assassination, and that by doing so, was in bad taste. Gretchen Esell of the Texas Republican Party described the subject matter saying, "I find this shocking, I find it disturbing. I don't know if there are many people in America who would want to watch something like that."[10] Hillary Clinton, then junior United States Senator from New York, told The Journal News of Rockland, Westchester, and Putnam counties at the annual New Castle Community Day in Chappaqua that, "I think it's despicable. I think it's absolutely outrageous. That anyone would even attempt to profit on such a horrible scenario makes me sick."[11]

Simon Finch, the co-screenwriter, replied saying that Clinton had not seen the film when she commented.[12] The Bush administration did not comment about the film; as White House spokesperson Emily Lawrimore remarked, "We are not commenting because it doesn't dignify a response."[13]

Critical review

Critics had varied opinions about Death of a President. The Metacritic aggregate website rated it at 49, "Mixed or Average", based upon 30 reviews.[14] Rotten Tomatoes rated it at 37%, "Rotten", based upon 90 reviews.[15] In Time magazine, Richard Corliss placed it in the context of other fictional assassinations, such as The Assassination of the Duke of Guise (1908), Suddenly (1954) and television programmes like 24 (2001–2014); concluding that it was "not an incendiary documentary, but a well-made political thriller."[16] In the Village Voice, J. Hoberman said it was "dramatically inert, but a minor techno-miracle" and that it "skews more theoretical than sensationalist ... Bush is presented as a martyr."[3] James Berardinelli commented that "If this was a serious examination of the possible long-term ramifications of George Bush's current foreign policy, or if it had anything interesting to say about Bush's legacy, it might be justifiable. But that's not the case. The decision to use Bush rather than a fictional representation of him is for no reason other than self-promotion."[17]

Of the critics who liked Death of a President, Rex Reed of The New York Observer identified the film as "Clever, thoughtful, and totally believable. This is a film without a political agenda that everyone should see."[18] In the Toronto Star, Peter Howell said, "The film's deeper intentions ... elevate it into the company of such landmark works of historical argument as Peter Watkins's The War Game, Costa-Gavras's Z and, closer to home, Michel Brault's Les Ordres. Every thinking person should see Death of a President."[19] In Film Journal International, Frank Lovece mused that the film's condemnation "by politicians and pundits from James Pinkerton to Hillary Clinton is understandable and completely predictable: They can't not comment, so when they do, they have to play to their audiences. None of them seriously believes that this work of fiction will really make someone take a potshot at the president, and anyway, the attempt on President Ronald Reagan's life came out of a crazy guy's fascination with Jodie Foster, so you may as well decry movies starring blonde former child actresses."[20] Jim Emerson, editor of exclaimed, "Death of a President is electrifying drama, and compellingly realistic. The actors chosen for interview segments (including the mom from Freaks & Geeks as a presidential speechwriter) are unerringly authentic as real people, speaking spontaneously before a documentary lens -- even when it's clear they've rehearsed in their heads what they're going to say, and may even have told these same stories any number of times before."[21]

The film has been reviewed in 2014. The Prince George Citizen columnist Neil Godbout called the film "a powerful statement about racial prejudice, [politicians' exploitation on] events for their own purposes, and [reporters' willingness] to tell stories [told] by government sources without question to get the scoop and break the story first."[22] Indiewire critic Andre Seewood wrote that the film does not "suggest that [George W. Bush] actually be assassinated by British agents."[23] Seewood further wrote that it is "not a direct insult to an enemy but hypothetical criticism of [UK's] ally cleverly disguised as a television news journal in countries where freedom of speech is mutually respected."[23]


The film won a total of 6 awards including; the International Critics Prize (FIPRESCI) from the 2006 Toronto Film Festival,[24] the International Emmy Award for the TV Movie/Mini-Series category in the (UK), the RTS Television Award in the Digital Channel Programme category from the Royal Television Society, the RTBF TV Prize for Best Picture Award from the Brussels European Film Festival for director Gabriel Range, the Banff Rockie Award from the Banff Television Festival for the film, and one for director Gabriel Range. The film also received a nomination for Best Visual Effects from the British Academy TV Awards in 2007.[25]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 "Death of a President (2006) - Box office / business". IMDb. Retrieved 16 November 2009.
  2. 1 2 3 "Death of a President (2006)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 16 November 2009.
  3. 1 2 Hoberman, J. (17 October 2006). "Assassination Tango". The Village Voice. Retrieved 2009-09-05.
  4. Violence section Screen It!
  5. 1 2 Moyer, Justin (December 17, 2014). "Before Sony and The Interview: This award-winning movie imagined George W. Bush’s assassination." Washington Post. Retrieved December 22, 2014.
  6. Spiegelman, Arthur. "Bush assassination film set for U.S. release". Reuters. Archived from the original on October 28, 2006. Retrieved 2006-10-10.
  7. Arendt, Paul (10 October 2006). "US film giants ban Death of a President". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 21 December 2014.
  8. Pilkington, Ed (28 October 2006). "Cinemas shun film of Bush shooting". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 21 December 2014.
  9. "Censors block Bush assassination movie". Asahi Shimbun. 2007-05-18. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-23.
  10. "Row over Bush TV 'assassination'". BBC News. 2006-09-01. Retrieved 2006-10-10.
  11. Worley, Dwight R. (2006-09-16). "Sen. Hillary Clinton blasts Bush assassination film". The Journal News. Archived from the original on 2006-10-23. Retrieved 2009-09-03.
  12. Interview, Canada AM (24 October 2006)
  13. Sullivan, Kevin (2006-09-02). "Bush 'Assassination' Film Makes Waves Across the Pond". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-09-05.
  14. Metacritic: "Death of a President"
  15. RottenTomatoes: "Death of a President"
  16. Corliss, Richard (11 September 2006). "Who Killed George Bush?". Time. Retrieved 2009-09-05.
  17. Berardinelli, James (2006). "Review: Death of a President". Reel Views. Retrieved 2009-11-16.
  18. Reed, Rex (17 September 2006). "The Toasts of Toronto: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett in Babel, Penélope Cruz, Reese, Ricci". The New York Observer. Retrieved 2009-09-05.
  19. Howell, Peter (11 September 2006). "DOAP terrifies with realism". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2009-09-05.
  20. Lovece, Frank. "Death of a President". Film Journal International. Retrieved 2009-11-16.
  21. Emerson, Jim (12 September 2006). "TIFF: Who shot Bush?". Retrieved 2009-11-16.
  22. Godbout, Neil (December 20, 2014). "Wrongful death of a movie." The Prince George Citizen. Retrieved December 23, 2014.
  23. 1 2 Seewood, Andre (December 23, 2014). "Satire or Propaganda: The Interview or Don't Yell Fire in a Crowded Political Theater."
  24. "Death of a President scores TIFF critics' prize". CBC News. 16 September 2006. Archived from the original on February 5, 2009. Retrieved 2009-09-05.
  25. IMDb Awards Notes

External links

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